Living in the shadow of your siblings

Someone I met yesterday, was recounting the difficulties growing up in a family of intellectuals. As I was talking to her, I was taken aback by her story; the reason being, that there was, in my eyes, nothing to suggest that this person was an underachiever by any estimation whatsoever. Although she knew she was a high achiever, she perceived herself solely in the light of her more successful sibling.

It’s astonishing how this sibling inferiority complex can become so dominant in people. It’s certainly something that I continue to grapple with myself at times. It’s an unconscious weight that remains unchecked throughout adulthood.

In my own case, I remember all the prizes and A-grades of my older siblings, which stick in my mind as barometers of success, long after exam results continue to mean anything. The worst part is that no matter how many accomplishments I have to my own name, they are always tainted by the achievements of my brothers and sisters. Although I’m blessed with so many strengths, these are rarely at the forefront of my mind.

My guess is that there are swathes of ADHDers who experience a similar burden in their lives. And there doesn’t appear to be a simple quick fix to this. One can find specs of Christian Andersen’s ‘ugly duckling’ at play here, which can reinforce a harmful narrative.

Perhaps a healthier approach could be to perceive oneself as the neurodiverse underdog, fighting for one's goals against all the odds. There is a certain feel-good consolation that comes with living in the shadow of one’s siblings. The thought that there is way more to life than a PhD and a glowing school report. The fact that intellect doesn’t determine virtue, nor do looks determine character. That you are your own person, worthy of making your own way in the world. However, you decide to look at it, you definitely have something your siblings don’t. And that is something that can never be taken away from you.